- The Washington Times - Monday, June 20, 2005

When a United States Senator says something deeply offensive, there are usually but two immediate recourses: Either he or she voluntarily apologizes, or colleagues formally censure the senator.

If the senator happens, however, to be a member of the leadership — as was the case with then-Majority Leader Trent Lott in December 2002 — another option is available: The humiliating loss of power resulting from the forced removal from that high office. Such a remedy clearly seems appropriate in the case of the Senate’s unapologetic and as-yet-uncensored Minority Whip, Dick Durbin, Illinois Democrat.

By now, Mr. Durbin’s offense is well-known. In remarks on the Senate floor last Wednesday, he equated American servicemen and -women engaged in the difficult and dangerous incarceration of unlawful combatants in the Guantanamo Bay prison with the perpetrators of the Nazi holocaust, Soviet gulag and Khmer Rouge killing fields in Cambodia.

The question is: Does this rise to a firing offense equivalent that which prompted Mr. Lott to be driven from power?

Surely, by any objective measure the answer must be “Yes.”

Mr. Lott lost his leadership post after effusively praising a retiring colleague, the now-deceased Sen. Strom Thurmond. His remarks were widely interpreted to suggest Mr. Lott thought America would have been better off if the racist views held by the South Carolinian senator when he ran for president in 1948 had prevailed. They were, understandably, deeply offensive to black Americans and all others who regard segregation as a terrible stain on this nation’s history.

Mr. Lott’s failure to apologize promptly and persuasively for such comments fed a firestorm of criticism that led shortly to his colleagues demanding his resignation as majority leader. That pressure came from Republicans as well as Democrats.

The statement Mr. Durbin made last week gave at least as much offense to victims of past systematic and violent wrongdoing — to Jews and others who lost some 6 million loved ones to Adolf Hitler’s gas chambers and death camps, to those whose kith and kin were among the 20 million or so exterminated by Soviet communism and to those subjected to Pol Pot’s murderous terror. It demeans their sacrifice to suggest anything that has happened to date at Gitmo — where not a single detainee has died — remotely compares to what happened every day under the odious regimes Mr. Durbin cited.

Also offended should be everyone worried about the growing ignorance of many Americans about history. How can we be critical of students who have no idea what the Revolutionary War was about, who Abraham Lincoln was or just about anything else predating the Michael Jackson trial if one of the most prominent and powerful of American legislators is so ridiculously ignorant of historical facts? Surely, Mr. Durbin would get a failing grade on his SATs.

Mr. Durbin’s most grievous offense, of course, was his defamation of American troops who protect us from terrorist operatives, trainers, recruiters, bomb-makers and financiers confined at Guantanamo. He has not only derided their service. He has legitimated our enemies’ efforts to wage war against us by suggesting the government whose orders they follow is literally — as well as morally — equivalent to the most repressive regimes the world has ever known.

Ironically, Mr. Durbin’s remarks can be expected to embolden the Islamofascists who seek, as in Iran, to subject ever more people to their brutal application of Shari’a law — a system of government that has much more in common with history’s most odious totalitarian regimes than the latter do with American conduct at Guantanamo or anyplace else.

Such repercussions should be as unacceptable to Democrats in and outside the Senate as they are to other Americans. Speaking of history, it clearly suggests that, if the Democratic Party is ever again to be entrusted with power, its leaders must be seen as trustworthy stewards of the national security.

Consequently, it is no longer enough that Mr. Durbin provide a more heartfelt and convincing apology for his comments about Guantanamo Bay. In failing to do so thus far (by Friday, he had only issued a statement regretting others were misinterpreting his historical references), he has compounded the original offense and obliged his colleagues to take corrective action.

For the Democratic Party once again to be seen as a reliable advocate for American power — a role performed by such past leaders as Franklin Roosevelt, Harry Truman and Henry M. “Scoop” Jackson, it must convincingly and completely disassociate itself from Mr. Durbin. The only way that can be achieved is by stripping him of his leadership responsibilities.

As with the vote on John Bolton’s nomination, the decision about removing Dick Durbin as minority whip is an early test of Sen. Hillary Clinton’s purported “centrist” credentials. If she hopes to persuade voters across America she has the stuff to lead this country, she must demonstrate she is prepared to lead her party in more responsible directions in the Senate.

Frank J. Gaffney Jr. is president of the Center for Security Policy and a columnist for The Washington Times.


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